Final Fantasy XVI has a lot of potential to break new ground for the storied fantasy franchise, but one aspect is certainly interesting.
When we talk about the depiction of sexual attraction, gaming is in general still behind the curve compared to other forms of narrative media. Besides visual novels, which represent an entirely different discourse, games tend to confine this topic to fanservice or compartmentalize it into mechanics in which you have to accrue affection points with a certain character to get intimate with them as a reward. Of course, not all games do that, but these tend to be dominant trends.
Sexual attraction isn't usually woven into the narrative in a realistic way during interactions that aren't directly related to the topic. It happens, but it's fairly rare, and it's even more rare in Japanese games, likely partly due to the country's cultural disdain for public displays of affection.
Final Fantasy XVI definitely breaks that mold. While I can't describe specific scenes without sharing spoilers, you will see moments in which people interact with each other like lovers who are obviously sexually attracted to each other. You know... like real people do. And that's awesome, as it adds another layer to something extremely important to storytelling, interpersonal relationships.
I'm not describing smut or simple sex scenes (albeit they may be present. I don't honestly know one way or the other as I haven't played the whole game for my preview that we published today). What I'm describing is more subtle but potentially more expressive and relevant to storytelling. Even a hug can be charged with sexual desire when it's depicted just right.
I've actually asked producer Naoki Yoshida about this, within the context of creating a Final Fantasy game that's definitely more mature in its tone compared to what we've seen before, and his answer was simple, but illuminating.
As for mature themes and violence and sexual content, it's not like we went out of our way to add them into the game. That wasn't our intention from the beginning. It was more that we had a story that we wanted to tell and those things kind of fit in the story, and that's why.
It may sound simple, but it's very meaningful. Quite often, the few depictions of sexual interaction that we see in the game are very self-contained and feel like something tacked onto the story for the purpose of appeasing the player or artificially make it more mature.
On the other hand, in what I have experienced of Final Fantasy XVI, these scenes serve the story, and they're seamlessly woven into it in a realistic and integral way. It isn't completely unique in the gaming industry, but it is rare, especially done this well.
You'll probably have to play the game to understand what I mean unless some of these scenes are sneaked into a trailer before release, or perhaps included in an upcoming demo which Yoshida-san has already hinted to.
I'll just say that what I have seen (among other things) gave me high hopes that Final Fantasy XVI will reach a level of storytelling that has not been reached before by the franchise, especially in the depiction of how people interact with each other and their raw feelings.
One thing that I'm waiting to see is if, how, and to what extent Final Fantasy XVI will depict romance. The Final Fantasy series has great examples of this in the past, but this has been a bit absent in most of the latest installments, which in my opinion has contributed to making them less attractive for many fans. Given how it portrays sexuality, the new title has the potential to bring that back as well, with a vengeance. Unfortunately, I haven't pushed far enough into the game to be able to tell for sure one way or the other, but so far, so good.
You'll see what I mean when the game releases for PS5 on June 22, 2023.